River Crossings

Among the many talents of the Korean company, Daewoo Corporation, there was a construction division which built some of the roads in Botswana, notably a large part of the tarred road to Maun from Francistown, which was in progress when I arrived in the village. There was also a small segment which headed north to the tiny hamlet of Shorobe, but the crossing over the Thamalakane River was beyond their local capabilities.Palms

The design included five Armco pipes set at different levels to accommodate varying flood situations, depending on the flood/drought fluctuations of the Okavango Delta. They were large enough to be traversed by the smaller of the local boat traffic.

Basil Read Construction approached Daewoo, and Arup, the international consulting engineers who controlled the Daewoo contracts, with the proposal that we would build them, as the segmented steel section Armco pipes was something with which we were familiar.

Gavin Allwright, a student engineer whom I had known in KaNgwane, South Africa, joined us in January 1992 to head the project. I did the survey, both for quantity purposes and for control, together with Gavin and the Arup surveyor, a very pleasant Zambian guy called Chembe Banda. We hired a canoe from Island Safari Lodge to map the cross-sections across the river bed, then a by-pass channel was dug, followed by a cofferdam to divert the river. It was a race against time to beat the floods expected in May.

A hilarious situation arose where Daewoo spied on us to find out how to assemble an Armco so that they could do it themselves, as a larger crossing over the same river was planned to be built near Riley’s Hotel. They wrote letters of complaint that we were behind schedule, while we were still busy with the cross-sections! Mr Kwong, Mr Joo and Mr Kim. Actually, as far as I could make out, there were about five Mr Kims…

They demanded a written method proposal, as well, which totally annoyed us. We wrote one in such high-falutin’ English that they could not understand it. In my office, Mr Joo and I wrestled over a single pencil as I tried to explain something to him and he tried to contradict me; both of us unable to talk without sketching!

When they finally began to realise that we knew what we were doing, we got the Riley’s Hotel crossing to do as well. The road was to be curved and each culvert to be at right-angles to the centre-line, which made the survey interesting. The fill sides were battered and covered with rock slope-protection that was to be mined from a bed of silcrete from the banks of the Boteti River.

Riley's Hotel road crossing the Thamalakane River

Riley’s Hotel road crossing the Thamalakane River

I was surveying road control on the curve when a local tally-man, counting truck-loads of fill, started pulling out the survey poles. He continued even after I sent a survey assistant to tell him to stop. In a fury, I ran across the site, cursing him and hurling clods at him. Then I grabbed him by the shirt-front.

When I had finished placing the control and left site, he went off to see the District Commissioner to lay a charge against me. The DC wrote me a letter that I should report to him at 14h00. I received it at 17h45! Another letter arranged a meeting the following day. The tallyman himself was late, but eventually the DC’s representative saw us and the matter was cleared up. I apologised for my crude behaviour – which the DC’s rep said was understandable, under the circumstances – after I got the man to admit that it was wrong to remove the poles. Then I told them that the tally-man had not asked permission to leave site to see the DC, nor to attend that day’s meeting. He was ticked off about that, too.

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 4 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom' and 'Medicinal Purposed Only', all from Southern Africa.
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